Getting the most out of your headsetMaria Vera
Audiophiles have long fought bloody, gratuitous battles over what makes for the perfect sound set-up. Thankfully, even a few basic adjustments can get you a good chunk of the way there, for relatively little effort and expense.
This guide is about making the most of the headphones you have. It assumes you’ve already got a solid pair —KLIM offer several gaming headsets that won’t break the bank and offer great sound quality. Both the Mantis and Impact are solid budget offerings with 7.1 surround sound. For a little more, the Puma headset has an integrated vibration feature that gives fantastic immersion to a lot of games, especially shooters. The KLIM Rush is our latest addition and features a 3.5 jack to use it on any device.
There’s a very wide market in gaming headsets, and a deep discussion of what’s best is beyond the scope of this guide. Making the most of your headphones starts with understanding what’s referred to as the Signal Chain. The signal starts at the source, and works its way through a variety of links before finally making it to your ear. For a great audio experience every step in that chain needs to be good, from beginning to end.
Start at the beginning
Checking the quality of your audio source should be your first step. Using an alternative source is only really an option if you’re listening to music. For gaming, there’s usually not much you can do about the audio files the developer picked. You might be able to adjust some levels, but generally speaking with games you get what you’re given. In music, however, the source makes a big difference. If you’re playing an MP3 ripped from a YouTube video, it will sound like hot garbage compared to a high-quality uncompressed file.
The first thing that differentiates one digital audio source from another is compression. Audio files are big, and there are huge amounts of data involved in accurately reproducing a sound. By compressing a file, you make it smaller, but you face trade-offs in the quality of the sound.
In order of quality, audio files fall into three groups: Uncompressed files like WAV or AU files, file types using “lossless” compression like FLAC or WMA Lossless, and formats using lossy compression like MP3 or AAC. The way this translates to streaming is “bitrate” — the amount of data streamed per second. Higher bitrates equal better-quality sound, generally speaking. Many of the popular streaming services have a higher bitrate mode available as part of their premium offerings. As an example, Spotify Premium gives you the option to stream with a bit rate of 320 kbps, versus their usual 160kbps. By doubling the amount of data in the audio stream you get a much higher quality sound. The tradeoff is that you’re going to burn through your data allowance literally twice as fast. You also need more bandwidth to fit the stream through, so a poorer quality connection will suffer faster.
Moving up the chain
Once you’ve a good source, it’s time to look at the next step in the chain: the DAC. Almost every computer today has an inbuilt Digital to Analogue Converter (or DAC, for short). The DAC takes the digital signal from your music file or game, and turns it into an analogue signal that your headphones can put out. They’re ubiquitous — if your device has an audio out, it’s got an on-board DAC.
Modern inbuilt DACs are generally decent. They’re solid, workmanlike, and generally can be said to be “good enough” for most things. But if you’re really trying for a better audio experience, they’re one of the first things in the chain you can make physical changes to. An external USB DAC will give you much greater control over the quality of your sound. You’ll not only have better processing of the sound than your onboard DAC will provide (assuming you’ve bought something solid), but the DAC will also give you more control over the output. A nice entry-level USB DAC will set you back between £50-£100.
The next step in the chain is the headphone amp. Many more expensive DAC offerings will come with an amp included, but often you need a separate one. They’re most useful when using high-impedance headphones, as these will often sound too quiet if plugged straight into the output jack. Amplifiers do a little more than offer you a loudness boost, though.
They often allow you more control over the sound you’re listening to. You can play with the amount of bass vs treble, and a whole host of other effects.
Picking good cables
Let’s take a moment to talk about your cables. A lot of noise gets made about needing gold-plated cables braided with unicorn hairs and blessed under the light of the new moon, for £1000 per meter. Frankly, it’s all rubbish. Decent cables do make a difference, but not nearly that much — you do not need to pay ridiculous sums to get them. The biggest advantages good cables have over cheap ones are all in their build quality and ruggedness. A truly high-quality cable will have well-built fittings, a sheath that will stand up to use without kinking or affecting the lay of the cable, and good strain relief. They’ll last longer and stand up to more abuse than the cheaper end of the market.
As long as you’re not buying absolute garbage, then any perceived increase in audio quality is going to be down to the placebo effect. Just stay away from the very cheapest cables and stick with reputable brands and you’ll be fine.
The last link on the chain
As we said at the beginning of this guide, the chain goes from the audio source to your ear. And if there is an irreplaceable component in this chain, it’s the latter. Remember to always use your headphones or speakers at an adequate volume, and avoid being exposed to excessive sounds for too long. This way you will limit the risks of losing hearing capabilities in the long run, tinnitus and other ear-related conditions.
KLIM™ Technologies is specialized in audio. We came from nothing, belong to no large corporation, have no outside investors. Our success only depends on our customers’ satisfaction. This is why we offer quality, durable electronics for a fair price. Our goal is that you can make your purchase with total peace of mind. Additionally, we have a 5-year ironclad warranty for our products, which is exceptional for electronics. We believe that we should put our money where our mouth is. If you enjoy the product, we win. If we fail to deliver, we lose.
If you have any questions regarding your product, our team of product specialists will get back to you within 24 hours. Reach out anytime at [email protected].